Outgoing Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: 'It's probably time for change'
The respected John Gibbons, with his laid-back demeanour and Texas drawl, is leaving Toronto for a second and, likely, final time as Blue Jays manager.
The 56-year-old, who held court with reporters alongside general manager Ross Atkins for more than 25 minutes ahead of Wednesday afternoon's final home game of the season against Houston, has mutually agreed with team management to part ways with the team he first joined in 2002 as a bullpen catcher.
"It's probably time for change. We both agreed the time is right," said Gibbons, adding he isn't ready to retire as a major-league manager and would like to stay in the game, perhaps in a special assignment role. "It's probably best to bring in a guy that can last a while."
The 71-87 Blue Jays entered play Wednesday fourth in the American League East standings, 35.5 games behind first-place Boston.
It's believed Toronto management wants its own man, while Gibbons, who was hired for a second time as manager in 2012 by former general manager and good friend Alex Anthopoulos, had hinted in August that he would prefer not to manage a team through a rebuild.
"Those things take time. I'm not that 35-year-old kid anymore," the former New York Mets catcher told MLB Network Radio on Aug. 10.
Gibbons, who will finish the season this weekend at Tampa Bay, is second to Cito Gaston in franchise history in games (1,578) and wins (791) among managers. He also led Toronto to two of its seven trips to the post-season, memorable runs that ended in losses in the 2015 and 2016 AL Championship Series.
After taking the Jays to a pair of World Series championships in 1992 and 1993, Gaston took over from the fired Gibbons in June 2008 with the Jays in a 4-13 funk. But the latter returned a little more than four years later, replacing John Farrell, who left for his "dream job" of managing the Boston Red Sox.
If you can't play baseball for John Gibbons, you can't play for anyone.— Former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi
Gibbons has posted a 791-787 regular-season record in 11 years managing Toronto across two tenures.
In 2004, he was promoted to first-base coach when skipper Carlos Tosca took over from ex-Blue Jays backstop-turned broadcaster Buck Martinez. Gibbons was appointed interim manager when Tosca was let go that August and had that tag lifted two months later.
"If you can't play baseball for John Gibbons, you can't play for anyone," J.P. Ricciardi, his former minor-league roommate and ex-Blue Jays GM, said at the time.
The easygoing and sometimes self-deprecating John Gibbons is known as a manager who lets his players play and treats them like men. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
However, the man affectionately referred to as Gibby has had a few run-ins with his charges over the years.
In 2006, disgruntled designated hitter Shea Hillenbrand wrote, "The ship is sinking" and "Play for yourself" on a display board in the Blue Jays clubhouse. Gibbons confronted the player and reportedly challenged him to a fight, three days before Hillenbrand was traded to San Francisco.
A month later, Toronto starting pitcher Ted Lilly was staked to an 8-0 lead, but was visited on the mound by Gibbons after allowing five runs in the third inning. Lilly initially didn't give him the ball to the manager to signal his exit from the game and, after the left-hander begrudgingly walked off the field, Gibbons followed him into the clubhouse tunnel, where they engaged in a shoving match.
Considered a player's manager, the Blue Jays' John Gibbons has had differences of opinion with some over the years, including pitcher Ted Lilly in a Aug. 21, 2006, game against Oakland. (Aaron Harris/Canadian Press/File)
Last month in New York, Blue Jays centre-fielder Kevin Pillar attempted to steal third base with his team trailing 6-2 to the Yankees and was thrown out. Gibbons screamed at him for about 30 seconds in the dugout before expressing how much he respects the defensive wizard as a player and person.
"He's the only manager I've ever played for [in the big leagues]," Pillar, 29, told the Toronto Sun this week. "I feel like he's always been in my corner, despite the mistakes I've made on and off the field.
"He believed in me, maybe when other people didn't, and that's something I'll always respect him for. He's kind of been a dad away from home."
Following his first stint in Toronto, Gibbons served as bench coach with the Kansas City Royals for three seasons and managed the San Diego Padres' double-A affiliate in San Antonio, where he was raised.